The Most Iconic Food From Each State
There is so much more to American food than hamburgers and apple pie. Indeed, every state across the country has its own signature dish to bring to the table, and the choices are as diverse as the nation itself.
Want to learn what popular salad was invented in California, which infamous Colorado dish isn’t what it seems, and why a certain dessert caused a food fight in Kentucky?
Find out by exploring our picks for the country’s most iconic food from each state.
Alabama: Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes were first popularized in Fannie Flagg's 1987 novel set in Alabama, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (and the subsequent movie starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy).
Just how popular are they in the state today? To take one example, the Irondale Cafe—also made famous by the movie—sells 600-800 slices of fried green tomatoes a week.
Alaska: King Crab
Alaskan king crab’s sweetness and meatiness distinguish it from other crab enjoyed on the country’s coasts. Though best enjoyed smothered with melted butter, it is also a leaner meat that’s low in fat and rich in protein.
That said, getting it to a plate is no small feat. Fishing for Alaskan king crab is a dangerous job, due to extremely cold temperatures and the hazards posed by crab cages—not to mention the fact that the crabs have killer claws and weigh about 30 pounds.
These deep-fried burritos are filled with meat, pork, chicken, or vegetables and served with sour cream and guacamole. Though popular in Mexican restaurants around the globe, chimichangas (allegedly) began in Arizona when a Tucson chef named Monica Flin accidentally dropped her burrito in the deep fryer and screamed “chimichanga!”
Whether that’s true or not, there’s no denying that Arizonans have a soft spot for their chimis.
Arkansas: Cheese Dip
Cheese dip is so beloved in Arkansas that there's an official cheese dip trail.
Created by Blackie Donnelly in 1935, this famous dip is an adaptation of Mexico’s queso fundido that contains a variety of melted American and Mexican cheeses. It’s typically flavored with peppers, garlic, tomatoes, cumin, and chili powder.
Unlike queso, which can clump as it cools, Arkansas’s cheese dip remains smooth and perfectly, well, dippable (thanks to a bit of processed cheese mixed in). Bring on the chips.
California: Cobb Salad
The California palate historically skews healthy, so it’s no surprise that the Golden State is the birthplace of an iconic salad.
The dish is named after its creator, Bob Cobb, who owned the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles. Working late one night, Bob got hungry and threw something together based on what he had in the kitchen: lettuce, egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon, and blue cheese.
Cobb liked the salad so much that he added it to the menu and it became an instant hit, even enticing big-name patrons like Spencer Tracy and Lucille Ball.
Colorado: Rocky Mountain Oysters
Don’t be fooled by the name: This fried appetizer doesn’t originate in the sea, but comes from the very low part of a bull. The dish was invented by ranchers, who wanted to utilize every part of an animal, including its testicles.
This may not sound appealing, but Rocky Mountain oysters make for a tasty bar snack, especially when enjoyed with cocktail sauce and pickles. Rich in vitamins and proteins, the dish is also surprisingly healthy.
Connecticut: White Clam Pizza
New York and Chicago get a big slice of pizza fame, but New Haven’s pizza scene is among the best in the country—largely thanks to white clam pizza.
The pie is a creative blend of freshly shucked littleneck clams, mozzarella and Romano cheeses, garlic, olive oil, and parsley on a perfectly charred and chewy crust. Just who makes the best white clam pie is hotly contested, but Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana has been serving these pies since 1925 and still packs in the crowds.
Delaware didn’t invent scrapple; that credit goes to German immigrants in Pennsylvania. But the First State has mastered the breakfast food.
Over the years, chefs have modified the recipe, which typically calls for the leftover parts of a pig to be ground with cornmeal and spices. Scrapple beer and scrapple tacos are even a thing. And if you really want to get your scrapple fix, the state serves up festivals devoted to the dish as well.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
Florida is most commonly associated with oranges, but limes are what feature in the Sunshine State’s most iconic food, a sweet and tangy mix of creamy meringue, lime flavor, and a graham cracker crust.
While it's widely served across the country, the best place to have a slice (or two) of the pie is in the Florida Keys, where it was reportedly invented. To solidify its iconic stature, key lime pie was named Florida’s official state pie in 2006.
Georgia: Boiled Peanuts
Peaches are a Georgia staple as well, but it’s boiled peanuts that best represent the state.
The technique to make these nuts is simple—toss shelled peanuts into seasoned water and serve warm—but the result is so tasty that they’re sold just about everywhere in Georgia, typically in “regular” and “Cajun-style” forms.
Fred’s Famous Peanuts in Helen is among the best-known boiled-peanut purveyors; Fred and his wife Diane started selling them from their home 30 years ago and demand was so high that they shelled out the money to open a store.
Hawaii: Shave Ice
If you want to sound like a local and not a tourist, refer to this by its real name: shave ice, not shaved ice. And absolutely never compare it to a snow cone.
Instead of relying on oversugared, processed flavors, Hawaiians deliver fine ice shavings that are mixed with fresh ingredients like Azuki beans, ice cream, coconut, and mochi. The result is both fruity and fluffy, and is best enjoyed on the beach.
Ululani’s, which has six locations on Maui and one on the Big Island, serves classic flavors like pineapple and mango along with tiger’s blood, root beer, wedding cake, and other exotic flavors.
Potatoes are so ingrained in Idaho’s culture that there are endless ways to enjoy them.
Starchy russet potatoes (often just called Idaho potatoes) make for excellent fries and baked potatoes. A uniquely Idaho dish is the “Jim Spud,” a massive (about 20-ounce) potato loaded with ingredients like steak, onions, cheese, butter, and sour cream. For dessert, potatoes even come in the form of ice cream, cleverly shaped to look like a baked potato with sour cream.
Illinois: Deep-Dish Pizza
Feelings run deep for Chicago-style pizza, an inch-thick pie featuring a crisp buttery crust. Chicago pizza isn’t served by the slice and don’t even think about trying to fold a piece in half; this hearty favorite is best eaten with a knife and fork.
The debate over whether Chicago or New York has the best pizza can get heated, but perhaps the more important argument is just where to devour your deep-dish pie. Local favorites include Bartoli's, Gino’s East, Giordano’s, Lou Minalti’s, Pequod’s, and Pizano's.
Indiana: Sugar Cream Pie
One of the best parts about this classic dessert, which likely dates back to around 1816, is that you don’t even have to leave home to enjoy it. Sugar cream pie, or “Hoosier pie” as it is affectionately called, is made of sugar, heavy cream, corn starch, butter, and vanilla. Once baked together these ingredients form a creamy custard that’s meant to fill the pie but is often eaten right off a spoon.
Of course, if you don’t feel like making your own, you’ll find sugar cream pie in many restaurants and grocery stores in the state.
With the exception of Idaho and potatoes, we’re not sure there’s a more obvious iconic paring than Iowa and corn. Thanks to incredibly fertile topsoil and highly skilled farmers, Iowa is the leading producer of corn in the United States, accounting for over 2.5 billion bushels a year.
Boiled, mixed in a salad, or on the cob, Iowa’s corn always makes for a delicious side. In addition to being an essential accompaniment at summer barbeques, corn plays a major role in feeding livestock, and its syrup is found in many common household products such as soda, shampoo, toothpaste, and chewing gum.
Kansas: Burnt Ends
Remember the moment in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy goes over the rainbow and the movie goes from dull black and white to vibrant color? That’s what many people experience when eating Kansas' burnt ends.
Though they may not sound appealing at first, these chunks of barbecue brisket (which fall off the meat as it’s carved) are tender and smoky, making them less of a leftover and more of a main dish.
Kentucky: Bourbon Pie
Rich and decadent, Kentucky bourbon pie combines chocolate chips and walnuts in a buttery filling, topped with a splash of bourbon for some extra spirit. This is Kentucky, after all. (Fun fact: The state accounts for 95% of the world’s bourbon supply).
Most call this dessert “derby pie” but that name is actually trademarked by the Kern Family, who created the pie in the 1950s and has since initiated a legal battle over the exclusive use of its name.
Louisiana has so many iconic foods—beignets, muffulettas, po’boys—but nothing represents the land of jazz and Mardi Gras like gumbo, a mouthwatering stew made of rice, roux, seafood or meat, okra, vegetables, and spices.
There are practically as many recipes as there are Louisiana residents, but gumbo is generally made in the Creole style (with tomatoes and often more varied ingredients) or the Cajun style (which sticks with locally harvested meats, fish, and spices).
Maine: Lobster Roll
Eating fresh lobster is basically a requirement when visiting Maine. Unlike in other New England towns, Maine’s lobster roll is served cold with mayonnaise and celery on a toasted bun. In the summertime, these sandwiches of the sea are known to cause traffic jams and long lines at eateries around the state, but they are definitely worth the wait.
At Red’s in Wiscasset, they’re also worth their weight—the popular lobster shack is known to pack an entire lobster’s worth of meat into its rolls.
Maryland: Blue Crab
Let Maine have its lobster; in Maryland, it’s all about the blue crabs populating the Chesapeake Bay. The best way to enjoy this dish is up for debate: Steamed and sprinkled is a classic choice, while crab cakes with tatar sauce is a newer crowd favorite. Either way, Old Bay Seasoning is a must.
Massachusetts: Clam Chowder
Affectionately pronounced “chowdah” in Massachusetts, this rich stew has been a popular New England dish since the 18th century, when European settlers first whipped up a batch. The super-thick soup is traditionally made with clams, onions, milk, or cream (which gives the chowder its distinct white color) and potatoes. Eating it with oyster crackers is obligatory. The most traditional chowder is served in and around Boston.
Michigan: Coney Dog
Not to be confused with hot dogs from New York’s Coney Island, a Coney dog is a grilled beef frankfurter piled high with beanless chili, diced white onions, and yellow mustard. The dish became popular in Michigan when German immigrants began selling it at stands in Detroit, likely inspired by the New York hot dogs they learned about after passing through Ellis Island.
Minnesota: Honeycrisp Apple
Did you know that the land of 1,000 lakes is also home to a genetically engineered apple? After 30 years of trying, scientists at the University of Minnesota developed the Honeycrisp apple in 1991.
As its name implies, this apple is sweet and crispy, and it's quickly become a mass-appeal favorite. According to the U.S. Apple Association, the Honeycrisp is now the fifth most popular apple on the market (bested only by Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith).
Natchez, Mississippi is known for its extraordinary mansions and riverboats, but it holds another important distinction: “The Biscuit Capital of the World.” The town won the honor in 2008, thanks to Chef Regina Charboneau, a seventh-generation native who is renowned for her extra buttery, flakey biscuits.
You can sample them, or even learn how to cook your own, in her restaurant, Regina’s Kitchen, as well as several other places in town. Enjoy them buttered with jelly on the side, with gravy, or topped with pimento cheese or shrimp remoulade.
Missouri: Toasted Ravioli
Don’t be fooled by the name: Toasted ravioli are actually fried. This twist on the Italian classic, said to have been invented in St. Louis in the 1940s, is so popular that it’s served across the state as both an appetizer and a main course.
The crunchy, cheese-filled pasta is best enjoyed with a sprinkle of parmesan and a side of marinara sauce.
If you see people hiking in Montana’s mountains with baskets, follow them—they’re likely in search of fresh huckleberries. These tart purple treats, which resemble blueberries, are served in muffins, pancakes, pie, and, a popular favorite, ice cream bars.
They’re equally good simply eaten by the handful.
Like a cousin to the calzone, only with German-Russian roots, a runza is a dough pocket stuffed with meat, cabbage, and onions. This beloved Midwest meal comes in many shapes and sizes, including half-moon, round, square, and triangle.
One of the best places to go for a runza is the chain restaurant of the same name, which serves 10 varieties, including the original, spicy jack, and southwestern black bean. The first Runza restaurant opened in Lincoln in 1949; these days, you can select from 78 locations in Nebraska and its neighboring states.
Nevada: Shrimp Cocktail
Nevada offers everything from mega-buffets to five-star restaurants to cheap-eat diners—and one dish you can find in any of these places is the shrimp cocktail.
The popular appetizer was created in 1950s Las Vegas by Italo Ghelfi, an Italian-American businessman and managing partner at the Golden Gate Casino. A simple dish of chilled shrimp served in a parfait glass with lemon and cocktail sauce, the cocktail was initially priced at 50 cents (about five bucks by today’s standards), and people couldn’t get enough of it. By the 1990s, the Golden Gate had sold over 25 million shrimp cocktails.
New Hampshire: Apple Cider Donuts
New Hampshire is one of the country’s biggest apple producers, growing over 50 varieties at its many locally run orchards. And apple cider donuts have become the go-to way to put the fruit to good use.
While these cinnamon-coated treats are enjoyed throughout New England, New Hampshire takes them to the next level by adding flavors such as chocolate, blueberry, pumpkin, lemon, Irish cream, strawberry, caramel, pineapple, and more.
For best results, pair with hot apple cider on a brisk autumn afternoon.
New Jersey: Pork Roll
Dating back to 1856, the New Jersey pork roll—also called the “Taylor ham,” after its inventor John Taylor—typically features minced pork and spices, plus eggs and cheese, on a hard roll or bagel. It’s great any time of day, but for the true local experience, try it at a classic neon-infused New Jersey diner with a side of gravy-and-cheese-laden disco fries.
New Mexico: Chiles
Known as “The Chile Capital the World,” New Mexico serves up red and green chiles in just about everything, including burgers, pizza, queso, stews, and sauces.
Hatch chiles, which are only grown in the region, are especially versatile; some New Mexicans even put them in apple pie and cake. They carry a heat level from mild (a rich smoky flavor) to extra hot.
If you don’t want to choose between red or green chiles in a dish, ask to have it “Christmas style” and get both.
New York: Buffalo Wings
Sorry bagels and pizza, the prize for New York’s most iconic food goes to Buffalo wings (can you imagine watching football games without them?).
These deep-fried wings, coated in hot sauce, butter, and pepper, got their name from Buffalo, New York, where they were created in 1964. As the story goes, Dominic Bellissimo was bartending at Anchor Bar when he asked his mother, Teresa, to make a snack for his friends. Instead of milk and cookies, she returned with wings flavored with a secret hot sauce. Her original recipe is heavily guarded, but most people use a combination of butter and hot sauce to create the buffalo flavor.
North Carolina: Barbeque Pork
North Carolina’s barbeque has achieved legendary status, but the question is: Which style do you prefer?
Eastern-style barbecue pork is found along the coast to Piedmont, where chefs prepare whole pigs over coals and season the meat with a tangy vinegar and pepper sauce. Lexington-style barbecue pork, found from Piedmont into the mountains, focuses on pork shoulders and uses a thicker, sweeter sauce.
Locals may argue over which version reigns supreme, but there’s general agreement that the dish is best served with red slaw, hush puppies, and cornbread on the side.
North Dakota: Chippers
Chippers sound like something you’d put in the garden, but they’re actually a sublime treat: chocolate-covered potato chips. The sweet and salty snack was created at Carol Widman's Candy Co. in Fargo, which is regarded as one of the country's best spots for chocolate and other sweets.
Since Ohioans can’t actually eat the nuts from their prized Buckeye trees (they’re poisonous), they’ve crafted something better—a sweet and savory treat that looks like the nuts. Created in 1964, buckeyes are peanut butter fudge balls dipped in chocolate. They may not grow on trees, but they’re widely available and very popular in Ohio and neighboring states.
Oklahoma: Chicken-Fried Steak
Have trouble deciding between fried chicken or beef? Get the best of both with chicken-fried steak. The recipe isn’t much of a mystery—thinly pounded steak is breaded and deep-fried, just like chicken.
While chicken-fried steak likely didn’t originate in Oklahoma, it’s so beloved there that it was put on the state’s official meal list in 1988 (yes, that’s a real thing). Conveniently, this list also includes terrific sides such as fried okra, squash, cornbread, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, and black-eyed peas.
Like Minnesota, Oregon was the birthplace of a new fruit: the marionberry. Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University in 1945, marionberries are a hybrid of different kinds of blackberries.
When they were introduced to the public in 1956, people fell in love with their rich, earthy flavor and proclaimed them “the king of the blackberry.” Today, Oregon creates about 28 to 33 million pounds of marionberries every year, and they are used in muffins, jam, ice cream, and the beloved marionberry pie.
Since marionberries are only grown in Oregon and don’t ship particularly well, they remain a mostly local treat.
Pennsylvania: Philly Cheesesteak
Though often imitated around the country, there’s no better place for a Philly cheesesteak than, of course, Philadelphia. Thinly sliced and covered in Cheez Whiz, and sometimes with onions if you prefer, the sandwich never fails to satisfy.
The Philly cheesesteak was created in 1930 by Pat Olivieri, a hot-dog vendor who decided to throw some beef on his grill and make a sandwich. As the story goes, he attracted the attention of a cab driver who convinced him to turn the sandwich into a menu item. And the rest was history.
Visit Philly and you’ll hear people arguing over whether Pat’s, Jim’s, John’s, or Geno’s serves the better version. In this town, everyone’s got steak in the game.
Rhode Island: Coffee Milk
No, we don’t just mean milk or cream for your coffee. This Rhode Island favorite is a coffee-flavored syrup (typically made from instant coffee, sugar, and corn syrup) mixed with ice-cold milk.
The drink is very Rhode Island—ask for it anywhere else and you’ll likely get an odd stare. Rhode Islanders have been sipping coffee milk since the 1930s, when it was originally marketed as a way for parents to get their kids to drink their milk. Today, people of all ages love coffee milk, so much so that it became the official state drink in 1993.
South Carolina: She-crab Soup
Like the best dishes, she-crab soup began at home. It was first brought to South Carolina by Scotch-Irish settlers in the 1700s, then took on French and Creole influences before becoming a popular restaurant dish in the 1930s.
She-crab soup is indeed made from female crabs (well, their roe), combined with cream and crabmeat and spiked with sherry for extra flavor.
South Dakota: Lefse
A Norweigan-American dish, lefse is made with potatoes, flour, butter, and milk, and is best enjoyed with butter and sugar. It’s most commonly eaten as a dessert with butter or sugar (like a crepe) or used like a tortilla to make wraps with ham and eggs or lutefisk.
It’s especially popular as a Christmas treat (especially at church bake sales), but South Dakotans enjoy it any time of year. The special dish is typically made at home since it requires long wooden turning sticks and special rolling pins with deep grooves to make, but the packaged variety can be found at bakeries and markets.
Tennessee: Nashville Hot Chicken
As the legend goes, Nashville hot chicken was created by Andre Prince, who attempted to teach her womanizing great-uncle a lesson by giving him blazing-hot chicken coated with loads of pepper. Her plan backfired; he loved the burning flavor so much that he wanted to share it with the masses.
Years later, this fiery bird is the hottest meal in town (literally!) and is still served at Prince’s, where the flavor ranges from plain to XXX hot.
Texas: Smoked Brisket
Texas and barbeque go hand in hand, but there’s nothing like the Lone Star State’s brisket. Texans are so serious about their brisket that it comes in four varieties, depending on which part of the state you’re in. Central is a dry rub cooked over pecan wood, while East is marinated in tomato sauce, West is made with mesquite wood (often called cowboy-style), and South uses a thicker barbecue sauce.
Franklin Barbecue in Austin is often hailed as the best brisket, but you’ll have to queue up for hours to get a taste of their prized meats.
Utah: Fry Sauce
Why eat french fries with just ketchup when you can have fry sauce? For the people of Utah, this creamy white mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise is more than just a condiment, it’s a way of life.
Invented in the 1940s by a chef at Arctic Circle, a popular hamburger chain, fry sauce has developed quite the following: Every year, about 50,000 gallons of it is dispensed in Article Circle dining rooms alone. Yes, we’re going to need a lot of fries with that.
Vermont: Maple Syrup
As if there was any other choice.
Vermont produces over 2 million gallons of sticky, sweet maple syrup every year, accounting for more than half of America’s maple syrup supply—and our waffles and French toast are better off for it. Vermont fully embraced its signature dish in 1993, when maple was named the state’s official flavor.
Virginia: Country Ham
For ham connaisseurs, Virginia’s country ham is a cut above the rest. Salty and full of smoky flavor, this perfected pork is often served as the main Christmas course or enjoyed in a fluffy buttermilk biscuit with eggs.
Smithfield ham, made in the town of the same name (and only in that town, as decreed by law), is often considered to be the world’s finest. These divine swines are processed, treated, hickory-smoked, salted, cured, and aged for at least six months and up to two years, resulting in a product that is rich in color and robust in taste.
Washington: Rainier Cherries
We’re tempted to choose coffee (Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks, after all), but while caffeine gets Washingtonians' hearts pumping, rainier cherries are a sentimental favorite.
Named after Mount Rainier, these cherries are set apart from other varieties by their color (golden) and sweeter taste (one-fifth of each cherry is sugar). This fruit is so beloved that it even gets its own holiday, appropriately named National Rainier Cherry Day. Held on July 11, it’s a day when orchards across the state allow you to go cherry picking.
West Virginia: Pepperoni Rolls
Some pepperoni rolls are prepared in coal ovens, but did you know they originated because of coal mines? The spicy snack was likely invented by Italian immigrants in the mining towns of West Virginia, who wanted an easy-to-eat snack that they could take to work. But it wasn’t long before pepperoni rolls left the underground scene.
Though they’ve spread to bakeries and pizzerias across the country, the rolls remain a source of pride for the people of West Virginia, who celebrate their creation with bake-offs, eating contests, and festivals.
Wisconsin: Fried Cheese Curds
This one’s another no-brainer. Wisconsin loves its cheese, and one of the best ways to enjoy the state’s stellar dairy is by ordering up fried cheese curds.
These fried morsels are made from cheese that hasn’t fully aged, so they’re springy, salty, and even a little squeaky. And the louder the better; according to diehard cheeseheads, the noisiest cheese curds are the freshest.